Contemporary Physics Lab

PHYS 493L: Contemporary Physics Lab

Prof. Tara Drake
Offices: PAÍS 2234 and CHTM 118B

Teaching Assistant: Ameen Zerrad

Course Overview:

The Senior Physics Lab 493L is a laboratory course with experiments in nuclear physics and Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO) physics for advanced undergraduate students. Students will obtain expertise in laboratory techniques and equipment, data analysis, error analysis, and in writing formal reports in a scientific format.

Senior Lab is organized around several lengthy experiments, each lasting approximately 3.5 weeks. The complexity of the experiments has been increased substantially from Junior Lab, with a greater emphasis placed on developing independent problem-solving and laboratory skills.

Here are the introductory slides from the first day of class.

Class Times

Tuesday, 8:00 am - 10:50 am, and Thursday, 8:00 am - 10:50 am at PAÍS, Lab 1417.

Lectures/Presentation hour, (most) Tuesdays 10:00 am - 10:50 am at PAÍS, Lab 1413.


Experimental Modules

Choose 4 experiments from the 6+ below:

  • Zeeman Spectroscopy * Only available to those who have completed Saturated Absorption Spectroscopy

Class Participation

Lab Notebooks

Students are expected to bring a laptop to each class. At the beginning of every experiment, each student will begin a Google Doc to serve as the lab notebook for that experiment, and share it with

The lab notebook should be detailed, clear, complete, and updated every class. You will be graded on the completeness and clarity of your notes--using your lab notebook, a third party should be able to reproduce your work. Please follow the format presented in the slides from January 16. Including photos and screenshots is highly encouraged.

Your lab notebooks will count towards your class participation grade.

Lab Reports

Each student is responsible for producing a separate report no later than at the beginning of class one week after the module finishes. The writeup should follow the format of a formal technical document that you would see in a physics journal. This document explains the expectations for each report. Here are the slides presented in class on lab reports. Here are the slides presented in class on uncertainty and error analysis. Here are more slides on handling uncertainty in fitting: slides. These correspond to the (optional) assignment with data fitting and fit evaluation through MATLAB.

Oral/white board Presentation

Students will give a 40-minute lesson (20 lecture + 20 interactive assignment) on a class-relevant topic or technique. Topics and date of presentation will be assigned by instructor during the second half of the semester.

Here are the slides presented in class on the presentations.


  • Strengthen your understanding of an important laboratory concept
  • Strengthen your communication and presentation skills
  • Think about how to present laboratory techniques/science to a broad audience


Practice talks with instructor are required and will be scheduled in advance.



The contribution to the final grade is as follows:

  1. Class Participation (Attendance and Lab Notebooks): 15%
  2. Lab Reports: 60% (15% each)
  3. Homework and In-Lab Assessments: 10%
  4. Presentation: 15%

  Due Dates

02/15 (Thurs)1st Formal Report (by class time)
03/19 (Tues)2nd Formal Report
04/11 (Thurs)3rd Formal Report
05/09 (Thurs)4th Formal Report



University Policies:

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In accordance with University Policy 2310 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), academic accommodations may be made for any student who notifies the instructor of the need for an accommodation. It is imperative that you take the initiative to bring such needs to the instructor’s attention, as he/she are not legally permitted to inquire. Students who may require assistance in emergency evacuations should contact the instructor as to the most appropriate procedures to follow. Contact Accessibility Resource Center at 277-3506 for additional information.

Each student is expected to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity in academic and professional matters. The University reserves the right to take disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, against any student who is found guilty of academic dishonesty or otherwise fails to meet the standards. Any student judged to have engaged in academic dishonesty in course work may receive a reduced or failing grade for the work in question and/or for the course. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, dishonesty in quizzes, tests, or assignments; claiming credit for work not done or done by others; hindering the academic work of other students; misrepresenting academic or professional qualifications within or without the University; and nondisclosure or misrepresentation in filling out applications or other University records.

All students are welcome in this class regardless of citizenship, residency, or immigration status. The instructor will respect your privacy if you choose to disclose your status. UNM as an institution has made a core commitment to the success of all our students, including members of our undocumented community. The Administration's welcome is found on this  website.